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Today's Last Jedi Take On Luke Skywalker Might Become Yesterday's Midichlorians: On Fan Response - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
December 19th, 2017
10:05 am


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Today's Last Jedi Take On Luke Skywalker Might Become Yesterday's Midichlorians: On Fan Response

As a long-time Star Wars fan, I loved The Last Jedi, but I loved it as I would a well-written fanfic.  There's one big problem at the heart of it:

That's not the Luke Skywalker I grew up with.

The Luke Skywalker I grew up idolizing was a hero, whose empathy and strength at the end of Return of the Jedi signalled the start of a long career where he went on to do many awesome things afterwards.

In other words, for me, the Holy Trilogy was an origin story.

Yet what Rian Johnson has decided, canonically, is that Luke was a fluke - he had one great moment, rather like that high school football player who won the big game, and then spent the rest of his life as a loser.  It's significant when Rey is talking about the achievements of the Jedi, she mentions him redeeming Vader and then doesn't mention that Luke a damn thing after that.

Because he didn't.  For Rian Johnson, the Holy Trilogy is not an origin story, but the sole thing Luke managed to do with his life.  (Which, by the way, is confirmed in the canonical Star Wars books leading up to the film. He's not a significant player in any of the post-Rebel fights; he barely exists except as a figure of inspiration.)  And Luke's been slowly rotting in a cave ever since - out of his depth, confused, having learned literally nothing from his adventures.

(Whereas Yoda, for some reason - who radicalized Luke as a murderer and was trying to train Luke to kill his father - gets a pass on his mistakes, still retaining his unwarranted halo as "wise teacher" despite the fact that all of Return of the Jedi only happens because Luke's instincts were better than Yoda's.)

Honestly, I have to admire Rian's ballsiness.  Rian Johnson pushed all-in on the "Luke's a loser" card because it made things way more interesting for Rey and Kylo in this movie - which is a bold damn choice.  And it also makes Luke's arc (in this movie) more riveting, because the question becomes "Can this man manage to pull off a twofer in his life, or is he forever going to be known by his one achievement?"

But right now fandom is in fury because, well, they've had forty years to imagine what their version of Luke's been up to.  A lot of people had no problem with The Last Jedi because their impression was that Luke was a whiny loser, of course he'd just fuck everything up, and so their version of Luke is pretty much "Yeah, he'd have deteriorated."  But for people like me, who grew up inspired by Luke's surpassing his whiny teenaged years to become the black-clad badass he was in Return of the Jedi, living an adult life trying to escape that black hole pull of the dorkiness of their high school experience, well...

The idea that Luke was basically a one-hit wonder, the Lou Bega of Jedi Knights, is a hard pill to swallow.  And even Mark Hamill didn't agree with that - what he said was, "I fundamentally disagree with virtually everything you've decided about my character."  (But because he's a pro, he decided to play that character as written - and I think The Last Jedi draws much of its strength by Hamill leaning into that blade, taking his own reticence about that and manifesting it on-screen.)

And if you're wondering why The Last Jedi has ignited a furor among fans, that's because it's the first Star Wars film to actually make a new decision about the Star Wars universe since The Phantom Menace.

That's right: Star Wars has not had any major alterations to its fabric since George Lucas introduced the idea of midichlorians.

Oh, the prequels did some new things, but we knew the ultimate outcome: Anakin went bad, Obi-wan went into hiding, everyone else died.  Same with Rogue One.  The death of Han in The Force Awakens was a bit of a shock - but was blunted by the fact that Han had taken on the role of kind father figure to Rey, and ever since Ben Kenobi got cut down we all know what happens to father figures in the Star Wars universe.

Truthfully?  Star Wars has been on rails literally since Phantom Menace's credits rolled.  We knew the outcomes.  Things were safe.

Except for midichlorians.  Remember them?  They were the invisible.... germs... that were responsible for Force power.  Lucas said that the Force was basically a magical cold, and some people had a lot of midichlorians (which you could theoretically test for, like trichinosis), and that's why the Force worked.  No midichlorians, and you could never be a Jedi.

The fans hated that, too.  They liked the idea that anyone could be a Jedi.  They didn't like the idea that it was a genetic lottery that disproportionately rewarded specific people - hell, they got enough of that crap in high school.

And the interesting thing about fandom is that you can't really decide what elements of canon stick.  You can say it happened, but fandom has its own consciousness and culture - and if an element is too alien, fandom will quietly reroute around the damage.  As a creator you can keep pounding on that rogue element, trying to sell it to the fans - but if you do it too much, they'll walk away rather than swallow this stupid part of "canon."

Given time, your new addition to the canon will become a footnote.  Things will return to the normal people come to expect.

And so midichlorians became an embarrassing backwater.  They're not mentioned again in the new films, because everyone hated them.  In fact, The Last Jedi specifically craps all over the idea of midichlorians - thematically, if not specifically - by Luke saying the Force belongs to everyone, not just Jedi, and by the way here's a random inspired kid who's using the Force.  And Rey's a great Force user even though she's from nobody parents.

The Last Jedi is, in fact, in many ways a rebuttal to George Lucas's midichlorians.

Midichlorians didn't take.

And the fascinating question to me is whether this version of Luke takes.  He's already not stuck in this Luke-loving household - oh, we absolutely believe in the events that happened in The Last Jedi, because Luke's final battle kicks ass, but secretly Gini and I have come to believe that Luke didn't really do nothing after the second Death Star went down.  We've taken to covertly rewriting our personal Luke history to be more like the old Extended Universe, where Luke had a long and storied career of wandering around doing massively heroic things before settling down and fucking up his Jedi Academy.  (Which does seem like something Luke would do.)

In other words, I wonder whether Rian Johnson's version of Luke of that one-hit wonder will actually take root in the fandom.  It might. There's a lot of people who genuinely believe Luke was an idiot, and if so, you can keep that opinion to yourself because I don't share it.

But what I suspect might happen is that parts of fandom will quietly push back on this idea, so that it gets pushed back, the way that Jar-Jar's influence got trimmed back in Attack of the Clones and then to cameo in Revenge of the Sith.  I suspect that even if Episode IX doesn't have some hint that Luke wasn't entirely a loser friendless cave-dweller for the majority of his career, some future Star Wars project will demonstrate a Luke at the height of his powers, doing something, anything, other than "saving Vader and then doofing away the rest of his life on insignificant things."

And it may be that forty years from now, there's a movie that explicitly pushes back on the idea of Luke's isolation in some way.  Because there's a tradition that if you bring your heroes back they have to be broken - Han Solo died as a loser who frantically tried to replicate the waning thrills of his twenties (he wore the same jacket, and how sad is it when a seventy-year-old dude is dressing like the Star Wars equivalent of Hot Topic?), and Harry Potter turned out to have learned nothing from all his experiences in the stage play The Cursed Child.

I don't know whether this version of Luke will take in Star Wars fandom.  I suspect it'll get kicked around a bit, massaged, Luke showing up in the cartoon shows as some sort of guest-star badass (and it's not like Mark Hamill doesn't do fantastic voiceovers).  And I suspect if there's a Star Wars series where Rey shows up, her appearance will be in part a rebuttal to Luke's appearance here - because if you're a huge Rey fan, imagine that after Episode XI's credits roll she settles back in a Jakku-like world and sits around passively waiting for someone to get her.  If you don't like that, well, that's how many of us feel about Luke.

But I do know that what we're seeing right now is part of the great Star Wars debate: which parts get to be widely accepted, and which don't?  The beauty of Star Wars fandom is that Lucasfilm doesn't determine canon ultimately - that's dependent on the quality of the show and the fan reaction.  (If it wasn't for the magnificence of Clone Wars, I suspect the prequels would be a null zone that people rarely referenced.)

Rian Johnson said who Luke was.  But he doesn't get to decide that once and for all.  He might get there, but ultimately?

It's the fans who get to decide if his take on Luke is what they think really happened.  We all get to decide our own internal canon, the same way that many of us have shrugged off midichlorians.

Because you know what's important? Enjoying the movies in the way you want to.  And if that involves quietly skipping past the prequels, or midichlorians, or Luke as Lou Bega, well, I'm behind anything that makes Star Wars more fun for you.

As a non-Star Wars side note, I'm using LJ for Star Wars-related blogging because, well, it has cut-tags and my blog at theferrett.com doesn't. I've stopped cross-posting here because a) my cross-poster broke, and b) I'd been planning to sunset LJ anyway because I fundamentally disagree with LJ's new owners. And right after that, when I planned to discuss that because some people had emailed me, I've had some serious psychological issues where my social anxiety and blogging have intersected and I've not said much. (I'm in therapy now; let's hope it helps.)

Anyway, the point is, I may make another Star Wars post here or two in the future, but if you want to see me, follow me at theferrett.com. I'll probably start blogging again at some point, albeit at a much slower rate. Thanks for reading me and such.

(21 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 03:21 pm (UTC)
But maybe Luke is a hero and someone who sat on an island for 30 years?

Bringing back Anakin to the side of the light was huge. Then helping set up the republic was huge.

Then he started training Jedi and that little bit of darkness in him fucked him up with Ben Solo and he went away - because he is a hero and realized just how dangerous heroes are.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 03:56 pm (UTC)
To state the incredibly obvious, that Ben Solo kid was at least a teenager before Luke's training mishap - and assuming Ben was in the first class, that gives Luke a good dozen years of hero-ing before happening to fuck that up.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 04:47 pm (UTC)
My original plot would have had Luke so furious at what Ben had done that he was terrified of giving into the Dark Side, and withdrew because it was too personal for him to risk getting involved.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 03:30 pm (UTC)

*two hit

For starters, love this review. Nice context into your personal attachment to luke, and some interesting thoughts on fandom.

I agree this wasn't the Luke from the original trilogy. He believed in saving Vader, believed in family, strong enough to risk his life trying to save him, and it's really, really tough to think that same Luke might consider murdering his nephew in cold blood because he saw a weird vision. Would've liked more; maybe seeing Snoke fucking with Luke's mind, maybe seeing Kylo doing some messed up shit to his fellow pupils with the force, something.

That said, I did like VIII quite a deal, but I'm a sucker for redemption stories, and we get to see Luke's redemption in a pretty epic way. His actions in this movie makes him a major player over two generations--a two hit wonder, if you will.

Just as Obi-Wan and Yoda before him, Luke's legacy is in his pupils, and I'd be very surprised if we don't see ghost luke have an impact in IX. It'd be interesting to see him show up to influence Kylo.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 03:32 pm (UTC)

Re: *two hit

Original plan was for Leia to become Rey's Force trainer in IX.

Dammit, Carrie. I didn't think it would be possible to miss you harder.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 03:56 pm (UTC)
The fans hated that, too. They liked the idea that anyone could be a Jedi. They didn't like the idea that it was a genetic lottery that disproportionately rewarded specific people - hell, they got enough of that crap in high school.

Huh. I always figured that the reason why people hated midichlorians was that they seemed too technical and (pseudo-)sciency, ruining the Force's charm as a mysterious magic. After all, only some people being Force-sensitive and this being strongly hereditary, was something that had already been established in the Expanded Universe way back. (Or at least that's the impression I always got from the EU, though now that I think about it, I don't remember how explicitly it was ever stated.)
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 03:57 pm (UTC)

One-hit Luke

Not having read any of the new-canon books about the post-RotJ rebellion, I'd say that one-hit-wonder Luke is also confirmed by his absence in Force Awakens. For all that that film spends a lot of time asking "Where's Luke?," it doesn't say _why_ they want him any more than as a symbol, to my recollection.
'Where's Luke, he was training Jedi and then disappeared when that blew up?'
'Where's Luke, he stopped that Empire that one time?'
'Where's Luke, he looked great on our recruiting posters?'

Did he do other actual heroic things? Sure, I'll believe that too. Was his seclusion while the rebellion floundered without him three years instead of thirty? I'll buy that. (Yes, I know Kylo isn't 40-something, so it couldn't be thirty years anyway...) But narratively, three years or thirty years of reclusive depression aren't that different in terms of what we see in this film.
Also, living next to a pit of dark-side energy can't be great for your emotional health. Maybe Luke would have felt less like he was a failure if he'd found a nice sandy planet and ran an orphanage or something; not even training, just maintaining some human connections, I'm just saying... :)
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 04:41 pm (UTC)

Re: One-hit Luke

It left it open-ended enough that you could have filled in anything. As I said when I argued that it'd be more interesting for Rey to be Palpatine's daughter:

"After the fact is made, we will retrofit every action in the movie to fit whoever Rey’s parents turn out to be – just like we now assign so much more meaning to Obi-Wan’s hesitations and sadnesses in Episode IV."

They didn't say much, but it wouldn't take a whole lot of retrofitting in VIII to have Rey list off a bunch of things he'd done, and to have the books reflect that.

Basically, what you're seeing now is the result of TFA playing it safe and leaving it open-ended for the next director. (Rian Johnson said in an interview they left it up to him who Rey's parents were.) And Rian slammed that stuff shut - but that doesn't mean that a couple of the right lines in VIII wouldn't have changed the whole spin properly.
[User Picture]
Date:December 22nd, 2017 01:42 pm (UTC)

That door is only shut if you consider Kylie Ren a trustworthy person on that topic - which would be easy enough to say “nope, just kidding.”

[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 04:35 pm (UTC)
(Oh neat, remembered my LJ password first try!)

I'm with you. It's like watching the bridge dropping on Captain Kirk over the span of several hours.

I think my biggest hang-up with the new trilogy is that the name 'Skywalker' now has to be held in vile contempt by the rest of the galaxy. "The Jedi maintained peace and order in the Republic for millennia... and then came the Skywalkers and it's been one dumpster fire after another ever since." Following Luke's journey from Tatooine through Endor, only to have it end up like this, is kinda depressing for what was supposed to be a whiz-bang space opera.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2017 04:42 pm (UTC)
Pretty much. Though honestly, the prequels made it seem like the Jedi ran a pretty dysfunctional, shitty government, so I think that helps.
Date:December 19th, 2017 06:10 pm (UTC)
I'm not reading or commenting on the SW:TLJ note, since I haven't seen it yet. But I do appreciate you posting to say you're not posting here and why.

As far as I can tell, without the ecosystem of LJ, the commentary just won't be there, which makes me sad, but that's hardly your fault. I suppose it's time for me to stop checking here. I'll plan to keep an eye on your blog, and look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Hope the therapy (or something) helps. Also, hi to Gini; I miss her LJ, too.

Date:December 22nd, 2017 09:34 pm (UTC)
Seconded. I too hope for Ferrett's good health, and I too will miss the community. It was a good ride.
[User Picture]
Date:December 30th, 2017 02:01 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:December 20th, 2017 05:42 am (UTC)
The world Luke settled down on struck me not as Tatooine-like but rather as Dagobah-like. He had become Yoda.
[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2017 12:59 am (UTC)
Thank you (not sarcastically!) for mentioning that your cross-poster broke; I'd been following you here and wondering if you were still writing. Now I know!
Date:December 23rd, 2017 09:06 am (UTC)
I find this post really odd, but I guess it clarifies to me some of people's dislike of this film which I thought was generally great.

I felt that it was obvious that Luke was wrong about himself and his legacy. He only talks about his mistake because that's what he's focused on. Of course he did a bunch of cool stuff between the end of return and the academy, and I don't think the film contradicts that at all! Sure Luke doesn't mention it because he's depressed and full of self loathing after a failure he considers to have wiped out any good he's done. But he's wrong, and the film tells him he's wrong.

So no, I don't think the intention was ever for you to think that Luke saved the day and immediately messed up at all, I am confident that your head canon is absolutely correct
[User Picture]
Date:December 23rd, 2017 04:49 pm (UTC)
I hadn't realised you were still posting on your own blog.

I see your status updates sometimes, but never your blog posts, so had assumed you'd stopped making them.

It'd be nice to get the crosspost to Dreamwidth working again.
[User Picture]
Date:December 27th, 2017 01:26 am (UTC)
I love your essays, but I fundamentally disagree with this because that isn't what I got from TLJ at all. You're seeing "Luke was a sucky whiner that did one thing right in his life and then went back to sucking. According to this movie he was never a real hero at all." You're entitled to your own headcannon, of course, but I loved Luke when I was growing up, and I loved this Luke whose great potential was almost lost with his nephew. What I saw was a war hero proudly getting ready to teach his beloved and talented sister's son how to become what the new republic will need in times of peace, who with growing horror begins to fear his nephew is going to bring back all the horrors he fought to destroy. I see a man who was tempted to destroy what he loved to save it, and resisted that temptation a little too late. I could see what happened next destroying anyone . What I got was "Hope is both precious and fragile. Heroes are flawed, and no matter how strong they seem the right blow can shatter their feet of clay. Even heroes can be broken. BUT. But if you call them in the right way then at the last moment they'll come to save the day anyway on their broken feet" (edit grammar)

Edited at 2017-12-27 01:29 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:December 27th, 2017 04:50 am (UTC)
i hate it, but i cant deny its appropriate for a few people of my generation. Luke turned into a failure and a hermit, gee that sounds familiar
[User Picture]
Date:January 6th, 2018 09:09 pm (UTC)
A few thoughts here:

1. I don't care what Lucas says, I think midichlorians are the effect of being Force-sensitive, not the cause.

2. I have no idea what the timeline between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens looks like; maybe they didn't need a hero. It's hard to slay princesses and rescue dragons if there aren't any princesses around, holding dragons hostage.

3. Luke making a hash of the Jedi Academy - yeah, that sounds right. Those who can teach, will. Those who can't teach will screw up their students in horrible ways.
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